It’s Not Too Early to Save on Christmas Presents

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Christmas is coming. Will you be ready?

I don’t bring this up to make you nervous about shopping. Instead, I want to point out that we all have choices about how – and whether – to buy.

I’ve written in the past about building a gift closet from sources like thrift stores, yard sales, clearance racks, and free-after-rebate deals. And people have accused me of cheapskatery, of giving crappy gifts, of cluttering other people’s lives with musty-smelling stuff.

I beg to differ. My gift closet is a cedar chest, so gifts are guaranteed to be non-musty-smelling. (And moth-free!)

Yet I know that gift-giving can be pretty fraught. Some folks can’t afford to give and thus feel bad about receiving. Some worry that their presents aren’t good enough. Some think that it don’t mean a thing if it don’t go ka-CHING!

It’s no wonder people just go nuts at Christmas. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Keeping it affordable

Some choose to cut back on gift-giving, especially when it comes to extended family. This would be welcomed by those hit hard by the recession, those who have long-term goals such as buying a house, or those who simply don’t want more stuff in their lives.

An easy solution is to institute a policy like “gifts for kids only,” or “gifts only for people under 18 or over 80.” Some families opt to draw names, so that everyone is responsible for one gift only.

Or why not propose a white elephant auction? Again, you’d be responsible for just one gift, and the stealing and re-stealing can be a lot of fun.

It’s possible to give experiences instead of stuff. Social commerce sites such as Groupon, Buy With Me, and Eversave make it possible to get meals out, spa days, live theater, and other treats at deep discounts. This only works if you know the recipient’s tastes, of course, and the experience doesn’t have a too-soon expiration date.

(Hint: Few people need massages as much as a new mom does. Few people have a harder time scheduling time away than a new mom does.)

Experiences can also be homemade. I used to give my daughter coupons for things like “one homemade pumpkin pie (24 hours’ notice required)” and “one load of laundry washed, dried, and folded.” This might work for you too. Your cousin who has three kids would probably appreciate a few hours of child care. An older relative might like a promise to clean out the roof gutters in the spring.

The important thing, of course, is to make good on your offer. Don’t promise to babysit and then be unavailable every time they ask.

Defining “affordable”

If money’s a real issue for some members of your family, set a very low price limit. I suggest giving people the choice of one or more of these themes:

  • Best of the yard sale
  • Found at the dollar store
  • Clearance-bin stunner
  • Extreme couponing
  • Loss-leader specialist
  • I can’t believe it’s a re-gift

This is not a challenge to find the tackiest gift imaginable. It’s a challenge to find just the right gifts for relatively little money. If your family is on board with this, draw names as soon as possible – this gives everyone plenty of time to create super-personalized presents on super-low budgets.

Some examples:

  • Your recipient is an 18-year-old college freshman, strapped for funds. Start compiling a box of free-after-rebate toiletries. Closer to Christmas, watch for snack items that you can get cheaply or free with coupons. This care package should be greatly appreciated.
  • Your sister provides child care in her home. School-supply sales begin around the middle of July at office supply stores and also some drug and department stores – and some of the deals are unbelievable. I’ve seen packages of pencils, crayons, and notebook paper for 1 cent, kindergarten scissors for a dime, markers free after rebate. Fill a copy-paper box with this stuff.
  • You’ve never written in the cloth-bound book that your workplace Secret Santa gave you last year. Give the journal to your niece, who wants to be a writer, along with a couple of gel pens you bought at the school-supply sale. Compile a bunch of famous quotations about writing and include them too.
  • You live in a family of bookworms. Look for good fiction at yard sales and thrift stores. I’ve gotten some terrific tomes for as little as a quarter. I’ve also bought hardback books at the dollar store.

I enjoy gift-giving and, contrary to public opinion, I don’t mind spending money. I just don’t see any reason to overspend.

More stories from Donna Freedman:

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